Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform Reviewed On: Playstation 3
[Editor’s Note: To anyone who holds the slightest interest in the Naruto series whether it is reading the manga or watching the anime, I would not read this review for the sake of spoilers. The story of Naruto is one of the greatest tales ever created and it’s something I want as many people to experience as possible. For those who are curious, the game’s prologue starts out at Naruto manga chapters 500 and 501 and Naruto Shippuden episodes 247 and 248. However, the earliest point of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s story begins at Naruto manga chapters 450 and 451 and Naruto Shippuden episode 197.]
I will go ahead and get this out of the way: Naruto Shippuden is one of the greatest television shows I have ever watched and it is something I continue watching to this day.
And yes, you read that correctly. Television shows, not anime.
I remember being bored one day during summer before my senior year of high school in 2009. As a seventeen-year-old guy bored out of my mind, I had to find something to occupy myself before the dawn of my last year in high school.
In a final effort to find something to do, I decided to watch Naruto Shippuden since my cousins were nagging me to death to watch it. They claimed it was not like Naruto, a series I honestly dreaded watching because of how much it dragged on, so I figured Naruto Shippuden would be the same cup of tea, but with a random Japanese word after the name. I was not fond of subtitles either.
Since then, I have never once regretted watching the marvel that is Naruto Shippuden (even with filler). I could easily write another article over why it is such a great series, but I will keep it brief. Shippuden has a fantastic and wide cast of characters, epic battles, wonderful music, it is inspirational and it contains one of the deepest, most enthralling storylines I have ever had and continue to have the pleasure of witnessing every Thursday after classes.
As strong as my love for Shippuden is, I tend to stay away from video games with licenses to a property. Gamers, you know what I am talking about with movie-licensed games, but for the longest time, I heard of one game series doing Naruto justice: the Ultimate Ninja Storm franchise. With the Fourth Great Ninja War currently underway in both the anime and manga, I decided to pick up the series with its most recent title Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 (UNS3).
As the story mode for UNS3, Ultimate Adventure is loosely based from a certain point in the original storyline. The Village Hidden in the Leaves (Konoha) recently witnessed its own destruction by the hands of Pain, a member of the group of rogue ninjas known as the Akatsuki. Thanks to series protagonist Naruto, Pain was defeated, and Naruto became a hero of Konoha, but it was not without a price. Tsunade, the leader of Konoha known as the Hokage, used her medical abilities and saved the lives of everyone as the village was obliterated, leaving her incapacitated. Without a leader, Konoha needed to decide who the new Hokage would become with haste. As a result, Danzo, leader of a disbanded faction within Konoha, was elected as the sixth Hokage. From there, we are eventually led into the Fourth Great Ninja War against the Akatsuki.
The combat of UNS3 places characters in 3D environments and really only uses one button to perform combos while using chakra to activate jutsus, the unique abilities of each ninja. Players additionally use ninja tools and Substitution Jutsus. Ninja tools range from a number of items whether it is hindering your opponent or benefiting your character. Substitution Jutsu lets you escape any attack, but it is not without limitations. Substitution has a meter allowing you to use it four times. Any time Substitution Jutsu is used, part of the meter requires time to recover before you may use it again.
Support Characters are used every now and then to shake things up. You can briefly call on these characters to assist you in battle, but require a charge time once they are called on. Support Characters will attack your opponent, defend you, or use a balance of the two. If you use Support Characters enough within a battle, the Support Gauge builds up where you can use support to its fullest whether it is in the middle of a combo or simply calling on them to pull off a better move. Support Characters add spice to battles and it is always interesting to try out a completely random combination. Haku and Ino anyone?
When a character’s health reaches below the halfway mark, players can activate a character’s Awakening. This gives you a temporary boost in power with the abilities varying from character to character. Some Awakenings simply give characters a boost in power in speed while others reflect the abilities of the character. For example, when Bee activates his Awakening, he temporarily transforms into the Eight-Tails. Once an Awakening is exhausted, not only can it not be activated again, the ability to use Ultimate Jutsus becomes restricted as well. Awakenings acting as a gamble can spice up battles in exciting ways.
Primarily popping up during boss fights, quick time events add an epic essence to the game. While the quick-time events themselves are a bit bland, CyberConnect2 takes major battles from the story and transforms them into highly action packed scenes, sometimes arguably more exciting than the anime’s version.
If quick-time events are pulled off swiftly, you will build up stars to view a Secret Factor, a small video clip showing what a character is thinking of as they are fighting. Players will also have opportunities to perform Secret Actions, turning a normal fight into a quick-time event imitating the scene from the anime. Symbols will pop up telling the player when a Secret Action can be activated, but the symbols do not specify what moves to use. Experimenting in the middle of battle is a necessity since Secret Actions could be anything from Ultimate Jutsus to throwing ninja tools. Factors nor Actions add emotion to the story, but fans will undoubtedly appreciate them.
Aside from one-on-one fights, Mob Battles shift the gameplay into third-person hack-and-slash segments where you battle against multiple opponents. While it is a neat idea for the franchise and makes sense for the war, it falls short due to clunky controls and dimwitted AI who idly stand by while you are annihilating their comrades. Furthermore, boss battles in Ultimate Adventure shift the gameplay from the norm as well. These are much more challenging and require skill with a side of patience. Bosses are more intelligent, have more health and can be quite difficult to take down.
Overall, the combat is engaging for a majority of the time, but it gets repetitive from time to time since all combos are essentially pulled off in the same way no matter which character you are using.
Every battle has bonus conditions and rankings. If certain requirements are met, players are rewarded with a wide range of unlockables, which you are constantly rewarded with whether you meet the conditions or not. The conditions vary from maintaining a certain amount of health to using specific move sets at different times and an assortment of other challenges, adding an extra zing to how fights are carried out. Rankings depend on how well you fought a battle. The higher the rank, the bigger the multiplier grows on how much Ryo you earn after a fight. However, the rankings were not consistent. During some fights, my character’s health was ringing Death’s doorbell and I somehow ended up with an S ranking. Other fights, I would pulverize my opponent and somehow end up with a C ranking.
Throughout Ultimate Adventure, you will come across Ultimate Decision sequences where you will decide to take one of two routes altering the story: Hero or Legend. Hero routes are less difficult and follow the original storyline closer while Legend routes offer harder challenges and offer a slightly different telling of the story. No matter which route you choose, the ending result will be the same. The choices do not drastically change future events similarly to a game like Mass Effect.
Additionally, Hero and Legend routes build up points to use specific items. Generally, every battle in Ultimate Adventure gives you an equal number of points for both, but choosing one or the other when the chance arises grants you more points. Hero items contain healing items and anything to help make the character you are playing as stronger. Legend items are geared towards damaging your enemy faster, but this is not explained well. The more points are built up, the more you unlock with items such as more slots and the amount of items you may have equipped within a slot.
While the decisions themselves add a fresh take to the original plot, the Hero and Legend points end up purposeless and hinder the experience a bit. What if I am a masochist when it comes to games and want to take the Legend routes (not that they’re so much more difficult), but hate the Legend items and vice versa? It does not make sense to potentially limit the players in this way.
If you wish to just fight computers or play with a friend locally, Free Battle lets you play as any character with several different ways to play. You can choose single matches or fight with Support Characters, battle in a tournament or practice performing the best moves from a character. No matter the mode, you still earn Ryo after each fight, which adds to the entertainment of wanting to play outside the story mode, and each mode is certainly fun to play whether a friend is present or not.
Although I discovered I am a terrible Ninja against real players, the online component of UNS3 worked well with only a few occasions of lag during matches. It is also great to have such an expansive way to create your own Ninja Card, which is basically your online identity in UNS3. There are a plethora of options to what you can choose for your picture and titles. It would be astounding if you found someone online with the exact same Ninja Info Card and two titles.
As a series putting out annual releases, UNS3 has a surprisingly long story mode, clocking in at 11.5 hours. Roughly half of this time is spent through cutscenes or via dialogue with the other half focusing on the fighting of course. While UNS3 is not entirely accurate at certain plot points (especially the ending) and even skims over vital parts, it serves as a great reminder for those who have not revisited past episodes of the anime for many moons.
Characters are unlocked by playing Ultimate Adventure, collecting a certain amount of Ryo or completing certain missions in free roam. It is not a chore by any means though. I acquired every character exempting one by the time I completed Ultimate Adventure, which was nice since I could immediately jump into Free Battle and play as anyone I wanted to.
Although the game states it has 80 playable characters, it is a bit of a falsity. Technically, there are 59 characters to play as (not counting support-only characters). Sasuke, for example, has three “different characters”: Sasuke when he ran with Orochimaru; Sasuke when he joined the Akatsuki; and Sasuke during his attack on the Kage Summit. No matter how you look at it, it is still a ridiculous amount of characters to play as and it will definitely give fans an awesome feeling to play as their favorite character. Accompanying the 80 characters are an astounding 40 stages set across the vast Naruto universe from Team 7’s first major mission to the battlefields of the Fourth Great Ninja War.
In the Ninja World Timeline, you can view a list of events in Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, experience those battles and replay the fights from Ultimate Adventure. While the only parts containing cutscenes are during Ultimate Adventure’s story, the fights pre-UNS3 offers quick summaries to remind players of the events taking place. It replicates nearly every important battle across the Naruto storyline and feels like a nice additional bonus.
There are tons of collectibles literally ranging in the thousands. Merely saving the Ryo to buy the one thousand Ninja Info Cards and titles for your online card alone will take quite some time. To top it off, you can buy different objects when substitution jutsu is activated, audio from all of the playable characters and videos showing everyone’s Ultimate Jutsu. Not to mention there are a plethora of items to unlock in the other shops and unlockable events for the Ninja World Timeline. The amount of collectibles is staggering and it easily gives players plenty to do until the inevitable UNS4 (or Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations 2?).
Once the main storyline in Ultimate Adventure is complete, you have the option to explore the lands and undertake side quests as Naruto. While it is nifty to explore each of the hidden villages, the side quests are tedious errands you undertake for villagers. To make side quests more frustrating, the only mission where you can see the specifications is the most recent one you accepted, rendering the side quests more burdening than fun.
UNS3 has beautiful cel-shaded visuals. The lighting, shadows, pencil-like outlines of character models and vivid colors mirror the design of the anime perfectly. Parts of the story feature flashbacks from both the anime and the game, and I honestly could not tell the difference at times. CyberConnect 2: this is where I give you permission to hold your heads high with pride.
Fortunately, there is an option to switch between English and Japanese dubbings, as I – and many people who keep up with the anime can attest to – cannot stand the English voices. I know there are people out there who despise subtitles, but trust me. The quality of the Japanese voice acting is miles better than the English dub.
For strange reasons (which I’m sure have to do with licensing issues), UNS3 does not utilize the music from the anime, which easily has one of the best soundtracks around with a huge array of music from battle heavy to tear inducing. Instead, UNS3 has its own original soundtrack. Although the soundtrack is far from the same playing field as the anime’s, it is entertaining enough for fans to enjoy, though some songs are annoyingly repeated much more than others.
I am glad I finally played an Ultimate Ninja Storm game. With gorgeous cel-shaded visuals, tons of collectibles, enjoyable combat and dozens of playable characters, it is easy to see why the franchise sees annual releases and fans love them. It is too bad the game falls short when it tried to vary itself in gameplay with Hero and Legend points, dumb Mob Battles and incredibly boring sidequests after Ultimate Adventure. Still, if you are a fan of Naruto and have prevented yourself from giving the series a chance, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is well worth your Ryo. If you are not a fan, go watch the series or read the manga and wait until it drops down in price.
- Tons of unlockables
- Epic cinematics
- Fantastic visuals
- Fun combat
- Bountiful characters and stages
- Inconsistent rankings after fights
- Pointless Hero/Legend leveling system
- Stupid AI and clunky controls in Mob Battles
- Terrible side quests
Robbie Key is a “Reviews and News Editor” for Analog Addiction, Entertainment Editor for the Pine Log newspaper at Stephen F. Austin State University, and blogger for IGN. Follow his completely relevant Twitter updates and watch his awesomtacular YouTube videos.